It Hops Around the Sea, Scaring People

Not this guy, silly--a beluga whale. (Mbot at the fabulous Phoenix Children's Museum.)

Not this guy, silly–a beluga whale. (Mbot at the fabulous Phoenix Children’s Museum.)

To make things easy today, and to prove that the bots are still here, being their eminently quotable selves, I’ve transcribed a few lines from the past forty-eight hours. You can see that we haven’t been bored; our topics ranged from mammals to physics to love. They are all connected, after all.

Mbot, on the beluga whale: “We studied the Polar regions. All of us had to learn about the beluga whale. It hops around the sea scaring people.”

Gbot, on panda bears: “If I were a panda, I would eat ALL your bamboo.”

Mbot, on Gbot: “I want his stomach to get REALLY fat, so he floats away!”

Mbot, on me: “I think you taste good in your heart, Mom, cuz you make my heart beat really fast.”

Mbot on Junepbear: “Joompbear, you’re deesGUSting.” (I gasped inwardly when I heard this. Mbot was examining his old stuffed bear at close range, and I feared that he finally had gained some perspective on the ratty old thing’s rather poorly aging fur, which at this point doesn’t get a whole lot cleaner looking with washing. I feared I was witnessing the end of an era. I shouldn’t have worried. He continued lovingly, “You’ve got some jelly on your head!”

Mbot, on relativity: “So, germs think that garbage cans are continents?”

Gbot on ear cell hydration: “I poured water in my ear so my ear cells could have a drink.”

Mbot, from the back seat: “Can’t you please drop me off at Grandma’s, Mom? I really want to give you some peace.”

Mbot, having rethought his opinion of Gbot: “I want him to be cute for the rest of his life.”

Ditto, and right back atcha, kid.


A Potion For the Bottoms of Our Shoes

Florida M-beach face-001

Day two on the Continent of Great Grandmothers turned out to be more about the great grandsons. I had promised the bots a trip to the beach. We got a late start, though, groggy from the two-hour time change, and I was feeling the strain of trying to do a lot with a little–a little time, a little energy, and two little bots. Navigating from the hotel to the Health Center to various stores for necessities was proving to be a time-eating exercise in one-way streets, endless waits in lefthand turn lanes, and impatient drivers who went for their horns without mercy.

By noon, we’d arrived at the Health Center again, and Mbot asked to come upstairs to get Great Grandma with me. So Solveig ran after Gbot, who seems to have more energy than all the rest of us put together these days, while Mbot and I took the elevator to the second floor and ventured down the hallway to the lunchroom. We found my grandmother as she’d been the day before. Although lunch looked good, she wasn’t eating; she’s uninterested in food and unable to feed herself. We pulled up a chair. I put my hand on her shoulder. She roused, and turned to look at us. I introduced myself again, and Mbot. Her face brightened and she said, “Oh! I was just thinking about you this morning!”

“That’s because we came to visit you yesterday, Grandma. The boys played in the fountain!”

We stayed just a few minutes, because an enormous man asleep at the next table started making some pretty terrible sounds which scared Mbot. No one else in the room seemed to notice. But when Mbot squirmed in my lap and asked to go, I told my grandmother that we were heading to the beach to play in the sand, not to worry because the boys would wear life preservers, and that I would come back later. She asked how my parents were. “Are they meeting you?”

“Yes,” I replied, nodding and smiling. My parents were in Idaho. I hugged her goodbye. She used to give me a hard time about being uncomfortable hugging and kissing–I was, back in my twenties. I could just hear her unthought thoughts: “So this is what a grandma has to do to get a hug around here!”

I didn’t know at the time, but knew it was a possibility, that that would be the last time she recognized me.

We managed to find the local WalMart, where we purchased picnic supplies, life-jackets, a package of Toy Story underpants to serve as swim trunks, and a short-sleeved t-shirt for me, because I’d only brought one and had left it back at the room. Then we went to introduce the bots to the Atlantic Ocean. We cruised west past a shop selling “The World’s Best Quilts,” Tarot Readings, and Accurate Accounting Services (we figured that maybe in Broward County, such a thing might not be assumed. We found the beach, clean and wide, just south of the pier, complete with a life guard who emerged from his life guard stand when he saw Mbot run in the direction of the street.

Florida Gbot profile donut 2

And there we spent the afternoon. The bots waded up to their hips in the waves. Solveig had thought to bring pool towels from the hotel lobby, and they quickly became covered with sand as we sat among the opportunistic seagulls. We buried Mbot’s legs and decorated him with shells. The bots ate chocolate-iced donuts with sprinkles. Solveig and I opened a bottle of screw-top shiraz, which turned out to be 15% alcohol, and drank it out of empty water bottles. It just seemed like a day for treats–to revel in the tangible physical comforts, to swim in Toy Story underpants and get our faces messy and to pursue a buzz in the middle of the day.

By five, I was exhausted, without the emotional energy to visit my grandmother. Back at the room, we found that the latch to fill the tub was broken and so after a group shower (of which Solveig opted out), we camped in front of the computer to watch four episodes of Tin Tin. I ordered Chinese food and it all tasted the same. Mbot made a Chinese food-eating breakthrough when he gnawed the kernels off of the baby corn.

I visited my grandmother the next morning, leaving Solveig in the room making costumes for the bots out of The Wall Street Journal. She was dozing in front of the TV when I arrived. I took her to sit in the courtyard, in the gentle sun and soft fresh breeze. We walked around the lake, through the rose garden, and sat by the fountain again. But this time, when she woke, now and then, she didn’t recognize me. She talked quietly to herself, a sililoquy I couldn’t understand. I read to her, as she dozed, from a biography called The Founding Mothers, by Cokie Roberts. I’d bought it at the airport; she’s always loved biographies. I held her hand and told her more about the boys but it was my own sililoquy. And at eleven o’clock, I returned to the room to finish packing. It was time to leave.

Driving to the airport, Mbot said, “I wish I could send all of this away. The trees, and the beach, Great Grandma.”

I could tell Solveig was slightly disturbed by this seemingly nihilistic desire. But I have learned that when a bot doesn’t seem to make sense, ask questions.

“Send it where?” I asked.

“Send it home with us,” he replied.

“Me too,” I agreed. Except for the impatient drivers and one-way streets.

“I wish we could just hop and be here with Great Grandma.”

“Me too,” I said. “We’d have to hop REALLY far.”

“Hmm,” he mused, in problem-solving mode. “Maybe I could make a potion for the bottoms of our shoes.”

It is a lovely thought, isn’t it?

I don’t think I will have another chance to see my grandmother. But Mbot has, out of the blue, started talking about her, almost every day since we returned–counting his grandmas (three!), remembering her silver hair, and that “all the grownups were eating kid food. Hotdogs, soup, pie…” We took pictures, and a video, that first day, and so that will help him remember, too.

And he’s getting a chemistry set for Christmas, so he’ll be working on that potion.

Potty + e – t + r = Poetry

Simile Man! Found on, although I don’t know who drew the fab pic.

Overheard from the bathroom:

Mbot: “I need to go as fast as a wolf catches a bunny!”

Several hours later, over heard from the bathroom:

Mbot: “I need to go as much as a meatball needs to be eaten!”

And I just don’t think anything more needs to be said.

Thmell Thomthing Thursday

By all means, stop to smell the flowers–but does it have to be on the way to the bathroom?

At the end of the 2 1/2 hour drive to Flagstaff to escape the heat, my full bladder and I leapt from the car and bolted toward the restroom in the Safeway, Mbot in tow. Surely he had to go, too? Someone sadistic had located the restroom beyond the floral department. Mbot broke away. “Mom! Can we smell the flowers?”

I said yes, and squeezed.

He plunged his head in bouquet after bouquet. At last, he came up for breath from a bunch of roses. “Mom! Smell these roses! They smell deLIGHTful!”

I did. They did. And then we bolted for the bathroom. In another six months I will find it difficult to grasp why exactly this exclamation was so delightful itself: not only because Mbot was stopping to smell the roses, but because it is a delightful word for a 50-month-old to utter. It may have been the first time he’d used it. And no matter how inaccurate my memory has become since giving birth, I seem to have an acute sense for when I’ve heard a word uttered from either bots’ mouth. I know for sure that, last week, when Gbot climbed into his brother’s car seat that he’d finally inherited, the one with the coveted cup holder, and announced, “This car seat is spectacular!” it was the first time he had used that word.

It was spectacular.


Bad Guys Don’t Have Birthdays, and Mbot Ate Mommy

This little guy, eat me? It beats the alternative…. (Mbot. Photo credit: Solveig Haugland)

The weekend out of town with old friends was as wonderful as I’d hoped, and I returned home (extremely tired, but that’s part of the game) to about what I expected: requests I’d made had been ignored but everyone was alive. Husbot reported that on Sunday morning, Gbot awoke early, as usual, and announced, “Mbot ate Mama.” Then he added sadly, “Mama was our friend.”

His explanation for my absence made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. And up until a couple of weeks ago I might have just left it at “oh, how cute.” But I have been reading a book called “Bad Guys Don’t Have Birthdays: Fantasy Play at Four” (The University of Chicago Press, 1988) It was written by Vivan Gussin Paley nearly twenty-five years ago, won the 1990 James N. Britton Award, and should be required reading for anyone who’s ever walked into Party City and purchased a candle in the shape of the number 4.

At the time she wrote this slim volume, Ms. Paley had been a preschool teacher for two decades. In order to understand the complex systems of play she witnessed daily among three- and four-year-olds, she began recording conversations and transcribing them each evening, documenting the children’s play and interaction, discerning patterns, connecting the play to events occurring in each child’s life, examining the interpersonal dynamics and excavating the “rules” of play. The book follows a group of four-year-olds through a school year, acting out such complications as a new baby in the family, parents working, the appearance of an older relative’s boyfriend.

“In fantasy play” writes Paley, “you sidestep that which cannot be controlled and devise scenes in which fears are resolved.”

Discovering this book was like unearthing the Rosetta Stone to Mbot’s play and conversation, or, for fans of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, like having a Babblefish on my shoulder: I suddenly and, it felt, magically, am beginning to understand the language he and Gbot use to describe the world they create daily–or rather create, change, destroy, and re-create–so richly inhabited by good guys and bad guys, Good Luke (Skywalker) and Bad Luke, Good Spiderman and Bad Cockroach Spiderman, Wonder Woman and Cinderella and Ree-punzel and dragons and four-headed monsters and bullet guns and laser beams and dy-no-mite.

What is all this violent talk and bam-bam-bam! with a Trio “gun”, I often wondered, when Mbot has trouble watching any movie–from Ratatouille to Babe–without running with a yelp into the kitchen while I fastforward through the parts where anyone is talking or acting in a hurtful way?

In part, here’s what this talk is: he is acting out his fears and overcoming them–just like Paley’s students do:

“A master of disguises, Fredrick will conjure up new dangers and, with a flick of his cape, be the instrument of rescue. In so doing it is he who is saved.”

He is taking control of his world. In Paley’s words, “Any unknown, it seems, can be made into a bad guy.”  And in play, “I pretend, therefore I am. I pretend, therefore I know.”

If Mbot ate me, Mbot’s the bad guy, and my absence in much less threatening than if I had left on purpose. And in the bots’ world, it is a fact–reinforced in everything from Burt Dow, Deep Water Man to Your Body Battles a Stomachache–that what has been eaten can be rescued, regurgitated, or resurrected. And my return Monday morning showed him he was right.

Feel Me Better By Clicking Here

I have this new image in my sidebar because SuperheroUnderpants has been accepted! It’s a marvelous community of bloggers and readers, with blog categories that cover everything from crafting to coupon-cutting, marriage to adoption, eco-friendly tips to fashion to food. But I think I am the only one of us making a sixty-eight inch-tall Ironman pinata.

The pinata really, really didn’t mean to be so big. I mean, I didn’t mean for it to be so big. My friend Solveig asked this morning on Skype chat, “Why, again, are you making a huge pinata?” I realized it was because I had fallen in love.

Not with Ironman. Not even with Robert Downey, Jr. (well maybe just a little). And not with the glory that would be mine (at least in my mind) if I completed this damned thing in time for Mbot’s birthday party (now seventeen days away). No–I fell in love with the mylar “It’s a Boy” bottle balloon.  I fell in love with its potential. With the possibilities. We would go places together. We would change the world. So what if it was 24 inches tall? Love is, if not blind, myopic, with little foresight, and as impractical as a boat made out of Wonder bread, and I was too in love to do the math.

With each additional layer of flour paste and newsprint, Ironman, The Killer Pinata more closely resembles both my marriage and my state of motherhood. It’s way bigger than the fantasy, way messier. Way more consuming. In its best moments, it’s captivating and marvelous. In its worst? Well that’s where the chianti comes in.

But back to Readers can vote for blogs they enjoy EVERY DAY! (one vote per day), with a simple finger motion. Clicking on the TMB image will cause me to rise in the Top Mommy Blogs ranks.

On a not unrelated topic, when Gbot crashed on the tile floor and burst into tears yesterday, all he wanted was a kiss on his elbow. I gave him one. He looked up at me in wonder, apparently pain-free. “Yook,” he exclaimed (his version of look), “You feeled me better! Sanks for feeling me better.”

And so, in anticipation of your clicks, sanks for feeling me better!


The Germs vs. The Marshmallows

Although it kind of sounds like something out of West Side Story–The Sharks vs. The Jets–The Germs vs. The Marshmallows isn’t quite so dramatic. The soundtrack’s not as good, and the choreography consists mainly of small jumps with our butts sticking out.

But, like the Broadway musical from the sixties, it’s mainly about human nature.

Here is among the first things I heard today, over the sound of running water as Mbot washed his hands after dashing to the bathroom so he wouldn’t explode:

Mbot: “Mom, do germs get germs on their hands, too?”

It’s proof, without a DNA test (as though the nine-months of crankiness, the spectacular expansion of the varicose vein network, and the C-section scar aren’t enough) that I am his biological mother.

The answer, of course, was ‘Oh yes. But for germs, SOAP is a germ! Cuz it makes them sick! Hah!” (And if THAT doesn’t mess with your sense of egocentrism, just wait ’til you’re a little older and we can discuss the theory of relativity (in laypersons’ terms, of course) and the fact that the popular physicists these days think there are multiple universes!)

I’m not bragging here, because I obviously didn’t go on to win the Nobel Prize in Anything, but when I was in the sixth grade, I used to walk the quarter mile to school by myself, and think things like this: I am going to school. But how do I know that I am going to school, and not that the school is coming to me?

And then I would go over all the reasons I could think of that the school wasn’t coming to me: If my friend Solveig, walking from the other direction, was also going to school, then, if the school were coming to me, she would never get there. But she DID always get there….I also figured that, from the point of view of Auke Bay, which was on my right, the school wasn’t moving either. Etc., etc. And so, at the age of eleven, I came to the conclusion that we lived in a world of shared perceptions, and whichever perceptions were shared by the most people seemed to constitute reality.

I didn’t put it into those words. I don’t think I ever put it into any words.

And it is more complicated than that. But I was on the right track. And the recognition that perceptions differ is an important part of empathy that parents and teachers try to strengthen in toddlers and pre-Ks, who don’t develop the ability to empathize until they are older. (Some, like those who caused the housing bubble and own large banks, never do.)

It is much more natural to only consider our own perceptions, and to defend our own existence in this world, just to keep ourselves real, in a very corporal sense. Thus, the last thing I heard this afternoon:

Gbot: “I have a dangerous butt to shoot out marshmallows! Psht! Psht! Psht!”

That line never made it into West Side Story. A shame, that.

What We Shall Do With the Meanest Mommy?

Last April Fool’s Day, I spent the morning opening up the freezer so Mbot could stuff his bunny between the bag of peas and the sweet potato fries, and then closing the freezer while he giggled, and then opening it again and being SO SURPRISED THAT THERE WAS A BUNNY IN THE FREEZER!

I’m not sure where he got this idea.

We did this over and over until soon there was a bunny and a doggie and then Junepbear was heading toward me in the kitchen and I had to call it quits because the freezer is about the size of a cereal box, really, and also because wasting energy (any energy–the earth’s or my own) makes me irritable. Then Gbot, who was only eighteen months old, had “to do a foolish,” too, as Mbot called it. So Gbot stuffed his giraffe in a few times and I was SO SURPRISED TO FIND A GIRAFFE IN THE FREEZER and then we didn’t do any more foolishes until the next day and then after another day or two, the bots thankfully forgot about foolishness.

But it made me remember that my brother a few years ago, with daughters then three and six, told me how much time he spent fake laughing, and how I would, too. At the time, it was difficult to imagine.

Then about six months ago, I found myself sitting across the breakfast table from Mbot and actually responding  naturally–carrying on a real conversation. It was so easy. My reactions were real, my laughter was real. It was such a relief. And I realized how much energy I spent each day BEING SO SURPRISED at things and LAUGHING SO HARD at other things. I am lucky because I actually enjoy this sort of interaction, but still, it was a relief to not have to spend quite so much energy at the breakfast table.

The transition to trying SO HARD and just doing what comes naturally is so slow and sneaky that it would be easy for it to go unnoted. But a few days ago, Gbot, displeased with something I’d done that morning, marched around the living room singing, to the tune of “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor,” “What we shall do with the meanest mommy, what we shall do with the meanest mommy, what we shall do with the meanest mommy earl-AYE in the morrrrrrrningggg.”

And this morning, when I told Mbot that Grandma was going to lose a tooth (she’ll have it pulled after everything else has failed), he looked up brightly and said, “I wonder what she’ll wish for?”

Such songs and statements produce thousands of kilowatt hours of emotional energy, more than enough to power any fake laughter I need.

PS: If you haven’t watched the clip at the top, watch it now. The Irish Rovers sing “What Will We Do With a Drunken Sailor.” No fake laughing necessary.

Help! The Holes Are in All the Wrong Places! (Or, The Skill Set Disconnect)

I'm really much older than I look. Chicks and hot tub, here I come!

This morning, Mbot was dawdling. He is three and the very best place to be when you are three, apparently, is naked on the living room rug arguing with your brother over who has custody of the extra-pointy Magna-tiles. Why hurry?

I had been asking him to put on his Captain America underpants for fifteen minutes while I cleaned up from breakfast. From the kitchen, I witnessed a few good starts, with Captain America face down on the floor, like we’d practiced, so that the underpants looked like Mbot was already in them, but invisible. Then I could see feet in the air, the flash of a red leg band entangled in toes, and then when I’d go out to help himMbot finish getting dressed, Captain America would be mysteriously balled up several feet away from the action.

Hoping to go out and make the most of a beautiful morning (and under the pressure that only an adult raised in the North, who knows that these mornings are numbered, probably numbered in numbers even Bots can count to, before the monstrous summer heat descends), I tried to hurry things up. I said that we could not go out to play if we did not put our underpants on. I said that I had my underpants on. That Gbot had his baby version of underpants on. Even Daddy at work had his underpants on. Etc., etc.

“But Mom!” Mbot wailed. “I can’t put them on! It’s too complicated!”

Well, at least he could articulate his issue.

My issue, on the other hand, is that it’s easy for me to forget that Mbot isn’t nearly as old as he sounds. Yesterday after brushing his teeth, he told me he “did it properly” and then asked to go to the playground, the one “without too much equipment.”

I sat down on the rug and we put them on together.

Sometimes, even superhero underpants need a helping hand.

Fine then, I'm only three. Mom, drop that camera and get over here!

Report from Chicago: Robot People, Monsters, and Me

The monsters in Chicago are, for the most part, benign. (

I am in Chicago.

I am here for the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference and Book Fair. According to the AWP website, 7,999 others are here for it, too.

The day before I left, I explained to the Bots that I was going to Chicago. They know that I will be gone for one-two-three-four days. Mbot knows that Chicago is not too far away and on the North American continent, and, that, according to a Google Street View, it has robot people walking in front of the big castles, but he does not think they are bad robot people. Gbot knows that he can see Chicago by looking south from the top of the jungle gym.

I know that it is windy and I have been alone but surrounded by people now for twenty-four hours. The conference starts in an hour. Last night I sat at the bar and perused the four hundred on-site events that I could attend if I had Hermione Granger’s time-turner, everything from “Behind the Book: Debut authors reveal the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” to “Ear Candy: Teaching the Pleasures of Poetic Meter.”

There are some talks about composing narrative, the value of the traditional form and the possibilities of breaking the mold. I thought of the story Mbot told me a few nights ago as I was putting him to bed. It went like this:

“Mom, do you know what camping is? It’s when you go into a dark forest. With a fork.* And if you find a monster?”

He raised his eyebrows, tipped his head to one side, and raised both hands, palms up, beside his cheeks. “Oh, well! The monster eats ya.”*

So much for the happy ending.

I was surprised by his story because Mbot has a distinct aversion to scary things, particularly in stories. Whenever anything unpleasant happens in a movie we are watching–even if happens to a bad guy–he jumps off the sofa and retreats into the kitchen with Junepbear, who apparently also dislikes onscreen unpleasantness.

But scary is part of every story, part of traditional narrative arcs and nontraditional narratives alike. Our heroes start in a place no more than medium-good, face scary parts, then conquer the badness to arrive at a happier place than they occupied at the beginning.

So now it is 8:27 and time for me to go out and learn. I am excited about that part. It’s the thought of meeting those other 7,999 conference attendees that makes me uneasy, the thought that I perhaps won’t try hard enough to meet others, although I know I will enjoy a good many of them and begin a few friendships. Even now, at forty-four,  a professional and a mother, it’s more comfortable for me to sit and write than to go out and meet people.

But Chicago is full of good robot people, and Gbot is keeping an eye on me from the top of his jungle gym. So it’s time to kick myself out of my capsule of comfort on the nineteenth floor and head out into the wind and the world. And if I’m a little scared? Scary is all part of the story.

Where are you along your narrative arc?

*Mbot is big into the fork as weapon, ever since he saw a picture in one of my books of a sculpture of the Greek sea god Poseidon holding a trident.

**It is still unclear as to whether the monster eats you with your own fork.